We are divided by those who think with their head, and those who know with their heart.

— Stephen Colbert


By Steve Sullivan

Is your mission controversial? (And what isn’t today?) Do you have critics who don’t believe what you say even when the facts are on your side?

Guess what? Facts and science just don’t hold the same power they used to. Any halfway believable but utter malarkey can carry as much credibility as utter truth.

Well no wonder. The world today is more confusing and non-intuitive than ever. We no longer worship the sky because we think it’s an angry god to appease, but we are surrounded by science, technology and realities we increasingly don’t understand. It’s natural that we fall back on what seems to make intuitive sense.

Even those dedicated to science and truth fall into this trap. It’s why smart people believe stupid stuff like vaccines causing autism and global warming being a myth, no matter what reality is.

A key factor is identity. We don’t realize it, but we have stronger ties to what “people like us” believe than to scientific proof. We want to belong. So if the group we identify with most strongly thinks one way, we are likely to as well, while seeing anything contradictory to our view as being simply wrong.

After all, isn’t belonging one of our most powerful motivators?

So what can you do? Start by building a tribe, not just an audience. Your communications should radiate from your core values and beliefs to attract “people like us” who fiercely agree. It’s what makes what you say authentic and truthful. Talk about you the supporter (the hero of the story) instead of we the organization.

Now you’re building the trust and identification that allows people to change their minds or believe what you say.

Suddenly it’s their cause and their truth. Treat them like your heroes and they’ll be your ferocious advocates and will convince their own “people like us” to see the light too. Find common points of agreement so people can see your organization and your cause as part of their identity.

You might even change your critics’ minds if you can find that core belief you share. We are the type of people who. . .

But for it to work you have to communicate like a human instead of an institution. Organizations aren’t trusted much anymore. Facts alone don’t convince. Build trust by telling the truth in emotional terms people can relate to rather than trying to be an institutional voice of authority or facts.

No one relates to facts. People relate to beliefs and others who think like them. So tell your story as a story. Be honest and vulnerable by admitting your mistakes and doubts while being uncompromisingly clear about your values You’ll reach people on a much deeper level and inspire far greater involvement.


Why Customer Personas may be Outdated
On getting real and getting human: “Here is something I am convinced about — over time, the most human companies will win. Showing our hearts, showing ourselves, showing our love of The Grateful Dead, is the opposite of what we expect from business leaders but it is the essential characteristic that draws us to them.”

Building your typical customer, donor or supporter is communications, marketing and fundraising 101. But is it the right thing to do? Maybe, but read about a path that calls for you to be you.


How to Hug Your Haters
Find out why if you’re failing to respond to haters you’re missing a huge opportunity. This can apply to your fundraising efforts, event planning or any other time you’re asking something from your tribe or customers.


Steve Sullivan is passionate about all things nonprofit and digital and started this blog and email newsletter to share the latest strategies and tactics with other marketing, fundraising, communications and membership professionals.


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